Panama: Christmas at El Valle's Canopy Lodge Pre-trip Dec 22—27, 2009

Posted by Tony Nunnery

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Tony Nunnery

Tony Nunnery grew up in Mississippi, then moved to Texas, and graduated from Stephen F. Austin University. After teaching elementary school for several years, he moved to M...

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With its incredibly active banana feeding stations for the birds, very comfortable accommodations, pleasant climate, and various birding locations nearby, the Canopy Lodge in El Valle is a great way to spend the holiday season. And although its location in the foothills cannot quite match the diversity of the lower location of the Canal Zone, it does offer a good opportunity to see a group of birds that do not wander from their higher altitudes. Knowing that we would have the chance to see the lowland species at the Canopy Tower, we excitedly set our focus on the birds at hand.

After arriving at the Canopy Lodge, the task of sorting out the various species frantically feeding on the bananas just meters away began in earnest. Numerous Blue-gray Tanagers alongside Palm Tanagers, Clay-colored Thrushes, and Thick-billed Euphonias flew back and forth from feeder to feeder as we watched in excited joy. We managed to sort out a pair of Tawny-capped Euphonias, a Streaked Saltator, various Red-legged Honeycreepers and Crimson-backed Tanagers, a pair of White-lined Tanagers, and Red-crowned Ant-Tanagers. And if this excitement weren't enough, a Rufous Motmot flew in next to a Red-crowned Woodpecker to gorge on a banana; we could barely contain ourselves! Oh, I should mention that this was all within the first few minutes of our arrival.

As we continued watching the feeders from our elevated porch—complete with exotic tropical juices and views of the forested caldera walls of El Valle and the picturesque river flowing by—we saw Flame-Rumped Tanager, Plain-colored Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, and a pair of Dusky-faced Tanagers gingerly approach the feeders to get their share of banana. On the ground below the feeders hopped Yellow-faced Grassquit and Black-striped Sparrow alongside White-tipped Doves, as Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Snowy-bellied Hummingbird fed in the flowers behind the feeders. A Rufous-capped Warbler gleaned insects from the same bushes alongside a Bananaquit drinking nectar. A Bay Wren sang loudly from the brush along the river, drawing our attention away from the feeders momentarily. Whew! We started our trip only a few minutes ago! Oh, the joys of birding in the Tropics.

Other highlights from our stay included great views of a Tody Motmot, which flew in and sat on a nearby perch. After an extended view, as everyone breathlessly watched in amazement, it returned to its densely vegetated environs. We also had great views of the Orange-bellied Trogon, which is range-restricted to Costa Rica and Central Panama. We watched as a pair sat and called to each other, quickly raising their tails and slowly lowering them again with each churring note. Another range-restricted species, the Veraguan Mango Hummingbird, was seen during our day-trip to the coast. This beautiful hummer sat perched in the sun atop a leafless tree. Here we also saw the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl as it was being mobbed by various other colorful tropical species.

During a walk along the upper road of La Mesa we witnessed a Band-tailed Barbthroat hummingbird feeding at a nearby Heliconia flower. As they returned to their cabins one afternoon, two participants had the unexpected blessing of seeing a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo along the edge of the forest. A memorable sighting that we all enjoyed was the Black-faced Antthrush that walked slowly and deliberately over the forest floor with its tail cocked practically straight up in the air. This normally not-so-easy-to-see species entertained us as it made many passes back and forth in the understory, giving its characteristic three-note whistle call.

These were only a few of the many highlights of our tour. Every VENT tour I lead to Panama is always filled with rewarding and exciting moments that confirm the fact that tropical birding is a great way to spend the holiday season.